Quick facts

Common name: poplar hawk-moth

Scientific name: Laothoe populi

Family: Sphingidae (hawk-moths)

Habitat: woodland, gardens, heaths, fens

Caterpillar foodplants: poplars, willows and sallows, aspen

Predators: birds, bats and small mammals

Origin: native

What do poplar hawk-moths look like? 

Adults: large, striking and unmistakeable. Wings are scalloped and leaf-like at the edges with areas of grey and brown, small, pale eyespots and occasionally a purple tinge. Lighter, buff-brown individuals are also possible. The hindwings sit further forward than the forewings, and when resting their abdomens curl upwards.
Wingspan: 6.5-9cm
Caterpillars: thick, chunky and vibrant green with faint yellow lines diagonally across the body. Look for the characteristic hawk-moth spike at the tail end. Some also have small, dark spots.

Did you know?

Female poplar hawk-moths are attracted to light during the first part of the night, and males during the early morning hours.

What do poplar hawk-moths eat?

Adults: these moths do not feed during their short lives as adults. Instead they rely on fat reserves put down as caterpillars.
Caterpillars: the leaves of poplars, sallows, willows and aspen.

poplar hawk-moth egg on leaf

Credit: Andrew Newman Nature Pictures / Alamy Stock Photo

How do poplar hawk-moths breed?

Adults are on the wing and looking for mates between May and August. Females release pheromones which attract passing males and lay their eggs beneath leaves. Caterpillars hatch and feed between June and early October. They eventually descend to the ground to pupate and overwinter beneath the surface.

Did you know?

When disturbed, these moths flash reddish-brown patches normally hidden on their hindwings.

Where do poplar hawk-moths live?

These moths are the most common of our hawk-moths and are widespread across the UK. They can be found wherever their caterpillar foodplants grow, as well as further afield once on the wing, and are regular visitors to gardens.

poplar hawk-moth caterpillar on leaf

Credit: Krystyna Szulecka Photography

Signs and spotting tips

Poplar hawk-moths are nocturnal and hide away during the day. While they do not visit night-scented flowers like other moths, they are attracted to light. One of the best ways to see them is to set up a light trap, or attend a moth trapping event.

Threats and conservation

These moths are common and widespread, and their populations are not thought to be threatened.

Did you know?

In Birmingham, a local name for large moths is ‘bobhowler’.